Red roofs atop cement, adobe or brick homes, cobblestone streets, sprawling green and brown mountains split by sacred rivers, Inca ruins in multitudes, tanned hard working people, minty aroma from eucalyptus trees, salt mines, rocky roads, colorful handcrafted textiles, this is Peru, and there is a whole lot more to it than Machu Picchu!
When most people think of Peru, the first thing that comes to mind is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu, and I will admit that was my whole purpose for going there. Machu Picchu has always been on my bucket list, but beyond that, I had no desire to visit Peru. But after spending 7 days in this beautiful country, I have to say I want more.
- Peru is absolutely beautiful. While there I visited Lima, Machu Picchu, Cusco and Ollantaytambo. Cusco is one of the highest cities in the world; it sits 11,207 feet above sea level, compared to the U.S.A which is only 2,493 feet above sea level. I absolutely loved Cusco but it is definitely the tourist spot. The streets are narrow and winding on hills and aligned with small shops and eateries. The towns are nestled on the mountains or in between them. There is green everywhere, and snow capped mountains in the sky.
- There is so much history everywhere. You can actually do a Inca Trail hike for 26 miles, through Inca paving, ruins and tunnels. Inca history is unearthed on the regular there. Choquequirao is an Inca ruin that is larger in area than Machu Picchu but can only be accessed by foot or horseback and is therefore less visited and less popular. Everywhere you look you can see the Incan influence even though the Spaniards did everything to wipe it all away, even to the extent of building on top of it.
- The people are beautiful. They don’t look much different than American Indians, short in statue, long, thick, dark hair and light brown skin. Everyone I encountered was nice and very helpful. They are hard working and make many things by hand. In the touristy area, they dress like Peruvians in pictures but if you go further down into the city, they dress like the rest of us.
- I could understand the language. I know most people don’t really consider Spanish a romantic language but listening to the people speak took me back to my many years in primary school studying Spanish. They say if you don’t use it, you lose it and I haven’t used Spanish in some time but hearing it again and being able to speak it back and understand some of it felt good to me. Granted once they started going, I became completely lost but I know if I spent some real time there, perhaps a few months, I’d be speaking Spanish fluently.
- I have to say something about the food. Actually, the food scene is great for non-vegans and foodies who like to try different things. The Peruvians eat a lot of meat including guinea pigs and doves. But my favorite food is potatoes and they have over 4,000 varieties that are native to the Andean highlands of Peru. They also eat a lot of quinoa. I must have had quinoa soup almost everyday. I tried different types of fruit too including Chirimuya, Granadilla, and Pacay. Eucalyptus is grown there as well as Maca and Coca. Yes I chewed on coca leaves and drank it in my tea. It helps with altitude sickness.
- I could never tire of shopping in Peru. The colorful textiles bring me joy. The prices are low and the goods are unique to the country. I love the colorful ponchos and blankets. Even though it weighed my bag down, I couldn’t leave the country without some ceramic pottery, so that every time I ate soup or drank tea, I would be reminded of the wonderful people of Peru and their ancestors, the Incas!
So if you’re considering a trip to Peru, sample all 4,000 varieties of potatoes and the many native fruits and let me know which were your favorite. Visit the salt mines. Explore the many archaelogical sites. Visit the museums and hike the Inca trail. Climb and take pictures on the Rainbow Mountain. Speak the language and try the Pisco Sour and Cusquena beer (roja is my favorite). Have an authentic lunch cooked by a local in their home- an unforgettable experience. Zip-line through the rain forest or ride the rapids in the Amazon river. View the Nazca lines from the sky or simply shop in the San Pedro market and people watch. Around every corner there is something new to try and experience. You’ll never get bored. There are so many reasons to visit Peru, beyond Machu Picchu!
*Hey readers, have you ever visited a country for one specific thing and wound up falling in love with all the rest? Share your story in the comments.*